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bays the men of the detachments, on their own initiative,
did not turn it on. Soon after the first cocks were turned
on, a gust of wind from the south-east turned the gas
into our own trenches. All gas was immediately turned
off, the detachments doing this on their own initiative,
but considerable quantities entered our own trenches and
caused many casualties in the 2nd Black Watch on the
leeward of our front.

The intensive bombardment commenced at 5.50 a.m.
and was satisfactory, the field guns and the Hotchkiss
gun in the front parapet participating.

The Infantry began to cross the parapet just before
the assault, under cover of the smoke and of the Artillery
bombardment, the Artillery lifting 100 yards and increas-



WITH THE INDIANS IN FRANCE 881

ing their rate of fire, so as to conceal the increase of range
and prevent the enemy realising that the assault was
about to commence. This, combined with the smoke, had
the desired effect, as the enemy was not expecting the
assault at the moment it was delivered, and there was
practically no hostile fire while the assaulting troops
crossed the ground between the two front lines.

At 6 A.M. the assault commenced. Dense clouds of
smoke, the result of the barrage on the right or south
flank, travelling in a north-easterly direction made observa-
tion difficult, and caused some confusion and mistakes in
direction. The Garhwal Brigade got up to the German
wire, which was found to be impassable opposite the
3rd Gurkha Rifles and the right of the Leicesters. There
the lanes cut by our Artillery had been filled up during the
night with rolls of French wire. This stopped the assault
sufficiently to give the enemy time to man his parapets
and prevent these troops making good the attack. The left
of the Leicesters and the 2/8th Gurkhas, however, found
the wire destroyed and penetrated into the enemy's line.

In front of the Bareilly Brigade the wire had been
destroyed by our Artillery and all three battalions got
into the enemy's trenches with slight opposition. On
the left, the Black Watch had to go through our own gas,
which the wind had not been strong enough to disperse,
and suffered more casualties. This battalion was not
free from the vapour until it got into the enemy's lines.
The smoke clouds, which the calmness and dampness of
the day had turned into thick fog, prevented observation
and hid guiding landmarks, and considerable intermingling
of units occurred after the assault. Communication also
was difficult, as the lines laid in advance of our front
parapet by the assaulting Infantry and the R.A. officers
accompanying them were continually being cut. This
was especially the case with the Infantry communications,
and the earliest information was obtained from Artillery
Observation officers, which proved generally reliable.

Writing as I am for the first time of a battle when I
was not in command of my Corps, I am tempted to
describe from reports the gallantry of units and individuals



332 WITH THE INDIANS IN FRANCE

well known to me, but I will refrain, and refer the reader
to that interesting book, The Indian Corps in France,
wherein he will find recorded the deeds of officers and
men who on this day, although unsuccessful in completing
the impossible task assigned to them, added brilliant
pages to their regimental records.

The names of such officers as Colonel Brakspear,
Lieutenants Bagot-Chester, Tyson, and Wood, of the 2/8rd
Gurkhas, form a roll of honour not to be forgotten, and
greatest of all in that fine battalion stands out Rifleman
Kulbir Thapa, who 9n this day added the fifth and last
Victoria Cross won in France by the men from Hindustan.

Palmam qui meruit ferat.

And what of the 8th Gurkhas who had begun the war
on that bleak 30th day of October 1914 before Festubert ?
The old battalion had practically disappeared, but although
no longer the Corps that had suffered so terribly in those
early days, it was determined to leave its mark deep cut
on the soil of Flanders. Colonel Morris, the CO., already
severely wounded nearly a year previously, paid with
his Hfe. Add to his the names of Lieutenant Ryall of his
own battalion and of the following attached officers :
Lieutenants Taylor (1st Brahmins), Inglis, and Meldrum,
of the Indian Army Reserve of officers, all of whom were
killed, as well as four others wounded and eight Indian
officers and 460 rank and file killed, wounded, and missing,
and one may well pronounce that the 8th Gurkhas indeed
did their duty and found their Valhalla.

I had left France ; I knew of the " mentions in
despatches," but I searched in vain for any rewards given
to the British officers of this and many other Indian
battalions who fought round Mauquissart on that day.

The 2nd Leicesters, as they had ever done, fought
with the stubborn pride of race they had so often dis-
played ; no need to say more. Over seventy were killed,
including Captain Romilly, of whom I told at Neuve
Chapelle, and Lieutenant Browne. Here, too, fell a good
soldier, of that brave but merciful band the Royal Army
Medical Corps, Captain Deane, attached for duty. He



WITH THE INDIANS IN FRANCE 333

had already earned the MiHtary Cross, and died as he had
lived, " going about doing good." I hope I shall not be
accused of aiding our next enemy when I give them my
advice, viz. " Keep out of the way of the Leicesters."

Second Lieutenant Gedge of the 3rd Londons, one of
the battalions in Brigade reserve, was killed. Another of
these units, the Garhwal Rifles, had seventy casualties.
The Garhwalis had established a grand reputation, but
were by this time unrecognisable in their old form, and in
finally passing out of this record I can say without fear
of contradiction that they left a name which will be held
in high esteem by all who ever knew them in France,
and not least by the Germans. The last name mentioned
to me after the Indians had left France was that of Lieu-
tenant Rama Jodha Jang, who behaved right well on this
day and was awarded the Military Cross.

By 6,30 A.M. our Infantry were reported to have
penetrated into the enemy's position as far as the support
line all along the front attacked ; the Germans were
reported to be surrendering freely, and there was little
hostile Infantry or Artillery fire.

Shortly after, the Twentieth British Division informed
Meerut Division that the Sixtieth Brigade had been ordered
to advance at once to protect the left flank of the Indian
attack.

From all indications it appeared now as if we had
captured the German front and support trenches along
the whole of the front attacked, and that the left of the
Bareilly Brigade was pushing forward towards the German
second line, but subsequently it was found that the situa-
tion was actually as follows :

On the right the Garhwal Brigade was held up by wire,
but the 8th Gurkhas and one company Leicesters on the
left had penetrated the German position.

Of the Bareilly Brigade, the l/4th Black Watch had
gone through the enemy's front system and had moved
forward considerably beyond the line assigned to them
as their first objective, and were digging themselves
in opposite the enemy second line. The 69th Punjabis
were pressing forward mixed up with the 58th Rifles and



334 WITH THE INDIANS IN FRANCE

the 2nd Black Watch. One company, together with one
from each of the 58th Rifles and 33rd Punjabis, were con-
soHdating the position gained. The Black Watch, less two
companies, which were blocking the trenches to the north,
were advancing against the German second line of trenches,
about the Moulin du Pi^tre. The 58th Rifles were pressing
forward with the Black Watch and 69th Punjabis. The
33rd Punjabis were in our proper front line. The Garhwal
Rifles had been delayed in their advance to our front line
owing to congestion in the trenches, caused principally by
the number of men suffering from the effects of our gas,
and were still in their original position. Lastly, the Dehra
Dun Brigade had commenced to concentrate forward.

The enemy's guns were active at this hour, and there
was much intermixture of units, loss of direction, and
confusion.

The consolidation of the captured trenches was not
sufficiently considered, in the anxiety of all ranks to take
advantage of the weakness of the opposition where we had
penetrated the position. The Bareilly Brigade had passed
over its first objective, and the flanks were dangerously
exposed, especially as the attack of the Garhwal Brigade
on its right had been held up. The natural anxiety to
press our advantage led the 58th Rifles to advance on its
own initiative, but I will later on more fully refer to this
incident.

By 8 A.M. the Divisional Commander had learned that
the Garhwal Brigade had been unable to enter the enemy's
front trenches, and the following was the situation :

In this Brigade there was no correct information of
the 3rd Gurkhas. The Leicesters were held up by wire,
but one company had penetrated the German line and half
of the 8th Gurkhas were in the German trenches. The
other half had lost direction and were intermingled with
the right of the Bareilly Brigade.

The Bareilly Brigade was making rapid progress. The
69th Punjabis and 4th Black Watch had taken the German
first-line and support trenches. On the left of the attack
the 2nd Black Watch had passed all the advanced trenches
and were moving on the Moulin du Pi^tre. In support



I



WITH THE INDIANS IN FRANCE 335

of this battalion the 58th Rifles were also moving forward.
In fact, the entire Brigade had advanced so rapidly that
their position was not fully reahsed. Unfortunately, the
captured support hne was not consolidated, owing to the
companies detailed for this work having joined in the
general advance and left the work uncompleted. Except
in officers, however, the casualties so far had not been
heavy.

Shortly after this hour it was reported that the enemy
was massing in front of the Black Watch, and our guns
were immediately turned on to the Moulin du Pi^tre. At
the same time two companies of the 33rd Punjabis were
moved forward to support the 69th Punjabis, and six
machine-guns were sent to support the Black Watch and
58th Rifles in the mine salient.

At 8.15 A.M. this same day, 25th September, the Dehra
Dun Brigade was ordered to move up one battalion in close
support of the Garhwal Brigade. This battalion was to
remain under the orders of the Dehra Dun Brigade.

About 9 A.M. the Corps Commander directed the Dehra
Dun Brigade to be pushed through the gap made in the
German line and attack towards the high ground between
Haut Pommereau and La Cliqueterie Ferme. Half an
hour later five field batteries from rearward positions
commenced to move forward to the east of the Rue du
Bacquerot, and at the same time the Bareilly Brigade
confirmed the report that the Black Watch and the 58th
Rifles had captured portions of the German second line
but that the enemy still held the Moulin du Pi^tre.
Casualties were reported as slight, and the O.C. 58th Rifles
was of opinion that the Haut Pommereau Ridge could be
won if fresh units were pushed through.

By 9 A.M. the Pioneers had commenced work on com-
munication trenches under considerable machine-gun and
rifle fire. Before this work had to be discontinued about
100 yards of fire trench had been completed. The party
at work on No. 2 trench also suffered considerably from
hostile fire and hand-grenades, but it had completed about
130 yards of traversed trench before it had to retire. No
work was possible on two other communication trenches ;



336 WITH THE INDIANS IN FRANCE

whilst the party on No. 4 trench continued work till
1.15 P.M. under constant fire.

The Garhwal Rifles could not carry out the fresh
attack as planned for them, as they were unable to get
forward out of the communication trenches, which had
become very congested in their neighbourhood.

The general situation of the Bareilly Brigade remained
as before. The few officers left were endeavouring to
reorganise the units and to guard their flanks. On the
right flank the 4th Black Watch were being echeloned
back towards the left of the Garhwal Brigade in order to
protect the right flank of the Bareilly Brigade.

Major Wauchope, commanding the 2nd Black Watch,
made over to the 12th Rifle Brigade of the 60th British
Brigade on our left the trenches which the two companies
of the Black Watch had been consolidating, and arranged
for the party to extend along a ditch to join up with the
58th Rifles. The remainder of the Bareilly Brigade
gradually collected in the German second line, where there
seem to have been great congestion and heavy losses,
owing to the dense target offered to the enemy. It is
impossible to establish the hour at which these various
actions took place, as most of the officers responsible for
them were killed or wounded.

Captain Hewett of the 41st Dogras, on the Staff of the
Bareilly Brigade, was killed during the fighting. Like
nearly every officer of the Indian Army who served on the
Staff in France, he had won his own way by sheer merit.

But now a change came over the hitherto successful
operations. After mid-day. Artillery Observation officers
reported that a good many men were to be seen coming
back, and being rallied in an old German trench ; and by
1 P.M. all our troops had fallen back to their original line.

The enemy's counter-attacks had developed at about
11.30 A.M. and were pressed home strongly and methodically
against the front and both flanks. The front was able to
hold its ground without difficulty, but on the flanks the
enemy established a decided ascendancy in bombing. On
our right flank the Germans outlasted our various parties
with their grenade-throwing, and successively obtained



WITH THE INDIANS IN FRANCE 337

the mastery of one point after another. The blocking of
the trenches was ineffective after our supply of bombs
was finished, and, although the men made a series of stands
during the retirement, they were unable to maintain any
position for long, as the Germans came bombing up from
trenches on either flank.

On our left the Rifle Brigade (British Division) was
unable to hold the " blocks " made by the 2nd Black
Watch, as their supply of bombs also ran short very quickly.

With both flanks turned, the whole of the Bareilly
Brigade had to fall back.

In the rapidity of their advance our troops had not
systematically searched the enemy front-line dug-outs,
and a considerable number of Germans remained in them
and fired into the backs of our men, evidently singling out
officers in particular, as the loss in officers was very heavy.

When it was established that the Bareilly Brigade had
fallen back, the attack by the Dehra Dun Brigade, which
was to have been directed against Haut Pommereau, was
cancelled, and that Brigade was ordered to gain touch
with the troops who were believed to be still holding out
in the German trenches. Accordingly, the G.O.C. Bareilly
and Dehra Dun Brigades proceeded to Winchester Road
to discover whether the report was true, and to determine
the best line on which the Dehra Dun Brigade should carry
out its advance. One company of the 2nd Gurkhas and
two companies of the Garhwal Rifles which attempted to
cross to the German line were driven back by heavy fire
from all parts of that line, and this showed that the German
front line was held in strength, and that none of our troops
were now holding any part of it.

At 4.45 P.M. the G.O.C. Indian Corps issued definite
orders cancelling the attack being organised by the Dehra
Dun Brigade. The fighting along our front practically
ceased, and for the last time the Indian Corps had borne
its share in one of the many fi_erce battles on the Western
Front.

As I said before, I am writing this chapter from reports
and letters in my possession, and hence it is not the same
thing as describing events in which one has borne a part,

z



338 WITH THE INDIANS IN FRANCE

but in many instances the records of battalions and even
individuals have become almost public property, and of
such I feel I may justly give some account.

The 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch was well known
to me and had served under my orders as a Brigadier,
Divisional and Army Commander in India and for a year
during the war. I was well acquainted with the Command-
ing Officer, Colonel Harvey, who was now in command of
the Dehra Dun Brigade. The actual Commander on this
day was Major Wauchope, D.S.O., who had served with
them for years, and who afterwards commanded a Brigade
in Mesopotamia. Where Wauchope rules all is well, and
on the 25th September he and his Highlanders well sustained
the name of that famous corps before Mauquissart.

Many had been disabled at the very commencement
of the attack by our own gas, but the spirit which never
acknowledges difficulties permeated all ranks, and the
Royal Highlanders, as they had done from Seringapatam
to Waterloo, and from the Alma to Lucknow and Tel-el-
Kebir, sweeping away all opposition, were almost into the
Moulin du Pi^tre before they realised that they had not
only gained their objective but were far (too far) beyond
it. Not finding the necessary support to enable them to
advance, the Battalion held on to its gains, but eventually
had to retire. Bombed, mangled, and attacked on both
flanks they moved back, but only over the bodies of their
comrades did the Huns advance ; only after paying a heavy
toll could the enemy regain his ground, and only after
desperate fighting would the Scots quit each yard of trench.
It had to be done, but the name Moulin du Pi^tre is worthy
to be added to the other twenty-eight borne on the colours
which commemorate gallant deeds performed from Guada-
loupe, 1759, to Paardeberg 140 years later. The losses
suffered amounted to 360 killed, wounded, and missing,
including sixteen officers out of the twenty with which the
Battalion went into battle, and of these five were killed,
viz. Captain Denison, a young officer of quite exceptional
promise ; Lieutenants Sotheby, Henderson, Balfour-Melville,
and MacLeod.

The halo of the 2nd Battalion had also encircled its



1



WITH THE INDIANS IN FRANCE 389

sister Battalion of the Brigade, viz. the 4th Black Watch-
Territorials to start with, but veterans in September 1915.
I can see the CO., Lieut.-Colonel Walker, leading on his
men, for this he literally did. Major Tosh was near him
and fell ; a sergeant quickly tried to save him, but in vain.
The bayonet avenged his and many other losses, and the
4th Black Watch, like the 2nd Battalion, looking only
forward, pushed on regardless of all but the Mill before
them. Dearly they paid, but the glory they won will
assuredly live when the Moulin du Pietre will remain only
a spot marked on old maps of the Great War. The Com-
mander, Lieut.-Colonel Walker, his Second-in-Command,
and a young officer, 2nd Lieut. Anderson, were killed,
seventeen other officers were reported as wounded or
missing, or a total of twenty out of twenty-one officers
present that day; and 420 other ranks completed the
casualty roll.

Like the Highlanders, the 69th Punjabis never stayed
their rush till the prize, the Moulin, was almost within
their grasp, but they too were to earn renown alone. When
the fate of war overtook the others, the 69th also retired
fighting. The Commander, Major Stansfeld (attached
from the 74th Punjabis), was killed, and Captain Nelson,
Lieutenants Moberly and Eraser also gave their lives ;
whilst three Indian officers and seventy others were killed
or missing. Amongst the wounded were four British and
six Indian officers and 260 others, or a total of over 50
per cent of strength present.

Captain Nelson was attached from the 8rd Brahmins.
We had spent three very good days together shooting and
fishing on the Ganges Canal eighteen months previously,
and I had been much struck by his keenness and zeal in
whatever he put his hand to. Major Bingham behaved
with great coolness throughout this day, but I could find
no record of rewards for the officers.

Of my good friend, Colonel Davidson-Houston, 58th
Rifles (Frontier Force), I have written elsewhere. His
battalion, in support of the Black Watch, cared for naught,
hke its comrades, save the fatal Moulin. On that all eyes



340 WITH THE INDIANS IN FRANCE

were bent, and it must be won at any cost. The oft-
repeated injunctions of the First Army to push on regardless
of side issues had burnt into the souls of men who had for
a whole year tasted the fruits of success and failure in
varying degrees.

The 58th pushed on, and a part found themselves close
up to the Mill ; the remainder met with the same counter-
attacks as the rest of the advance ; they held on to their
gains and consolidated as much as possible, but eventually
were forced to retire to our own original line. Amongst
the killed or missing were Colonel Davidson-Houston,
Captains Flagg, Harcourt, McKenzie, and Lieutenants
Nicolls, Deane-Spread (Indian Army Reserve of Officers,
attached), and Milligan. Captain C. G. Wardell (21st
Punjabis, attached) was severely wounded. Five Indian
officers and 240 other ranks completed the roll of casualties.

As an example of the inferno through which the troops
went on this day, I will instance the doings of Captain
Wardell above mentioned. At the very start he was
knocked over by the explosion of a shell close by ; almost
immediately a bullet smashed his water-bottle and a second
one cut away the straps. In moving up to form a defensive
flank in the second German line captured trenches he lost
a good many men getting through uncut wire. Units in
the front line were by this time indescribably mixed up ;
there were too many men, and very few officers left. An
hour later a bullet cut the strap of his field-glasses and
another smashed the glasses in his hand. A third passed
through his lung, injuring several ribs and emerging through
his coat pocket, but such was the situation that each
and every British officer must perforce fight on, so a fresh
pair of glasses was got, and whilst he was observing as
best he could another bullet passed through his shoulder.
Bleeding and sorely hurt as he was, I have been told on
good authority that this brave officer remained with his
command until sent back on a stretcher by his Colonel.

I looked for any rewards to British officers of this
battalion, but I could find none.

The last of the Indian battalions to join the Corps in



WITH THE INDIANS IN FRANCE 341

France, and the last of which I shall write here, was the
33rd Punjabis. They had arrived the very day after I
left, and were not long before, in their reconstituted form,
they too had received their baptism of fire. The same
goal was theirs, the same vicinity of the Moulin was to be
the last resting-place of many of the men from the land
of the Five Rivers, and as their comrades had fought, so
now did they share in the glory and carnage of the strife.

As a Captain and Staff Officer at Delhi I had been present
when the old 33rd Regiment of "Bengal Infantry" was
mustered out, and the "33rd Punjabi Mahomedans " took
their place. I had again seen them at Delhi, when
commanding the Northern Army, and I only missed them
by a day in Flanders. They may rest content in the
knowledge that although the last to join the Corps they
were not the least in the share they took on 25th September
1915, before Mauquissart, and to this fact their long list
of casualties attests. Killed and missing — Major Kelly,
Captains Price and MacCall, Lieutenant Grasett (attached
from 28th Punjabis). The Commanding Officer, Colonel
Ridgway, and Captain Vincent were wounded. Five Indian
officers were also killed or missing and three were wounded,
a total of fourteen officers all told. Of other ranks eighty-
seven were killed or missing and 160 wounded. The
senior Indian officer, Subadar-Major Bahadur Khan, and
the senior Jemadar, Akbar Ali, were among the killed.

General Jacob in his report on these operations made
the following remarks, which explain some of the reasons
for the failure of the Indian Corps to retain the ground it
had won. He says :

It was unfortunate that the wind, changing at the last
moment, blew the gas back on to our own trenches, . . . men
under the influence of gas seemed to lose all sense of direction,
and some are said to have charged down between the German
and our own front lines until stopped by the Duck's Bill.

After highly praising the keenness, spirit, Man, and dash
shown by all units, he adds :

The charge made by the 2/8th Gurkhas and the 2nd



Online LibraryJames WillcocksWith the Indians in France → online text (page 29 of 35)